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Crossbow hunting has gained tremendous popularity in the last few years. Not only are state laws much less restrictive for crossbows, but the actual mechanics of the weapon mean more people can use a bow for hunting. And it’s not just disabled people who don’t have the power to draw the string on a vertical bow. The aging of America is helping to popularize crossbows. “As the nation gets older, more people don’t have the strength for a traditional bow,” says Barnett Crossbows. “That has meant a much bigger audience for our product.”

A Long and Rich History

Crossbows have been around before firearms and have a distinguished history in warfare. They are referenced in Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War in the fifth century B.C., and they were important in ancient Greece and throughout the Middle Ages. Traditional longbows required a great deal of strength and years of practice to master, but crossbows could be adapted quickly by a large peasant population, greatly increasing the offensive resources available to a medieval militarist. The power of the medieval crossbow is perhaps best illustrated by Pope Innocent II’s 1139 decree that it was a sin to kill a Christian with the weapon (but non-Christians were fair game).

While today’s hunting crossbows are much more sophisticated than their medieval ancestors, the fundamental mechanics are similar. Crossbows have a shorter draw length than vertical bows, requiring a greater draw force to store the same amount of energy; hence the need for a mechanical cocking device. Crossbows can be kept cocked and ready to shoot for some time, with little effort.

Recurve Versus Compound

There are essentially two types of crossbows. Recurve crossbows have tips that curve away from the archer, with a longer draw length than equivalent straight bows. A more modern design, and more popular today is the Compound crossbow that uses pulleys that are both round and concentrically mounted to capture maximum available energy from the short draw length. Compound designs tend to be more compact, quieter, and cause less wear on the trigger and locks. Recurve designs are lighter and the string is easier to replace.

Crossbows are surprisingly versatile in the field. They can be used on large and small prey. While the mechanical aspect of a crossbow makes it relatively easy to shoot an arrow, the killing distance for a crossbow is not significantly longer than for a traditional bow. Crossbow hunting is like all archery — it requires superior tracking skills to get close enough to the prey for a humane kill.

Important Accessories

The very nature of a crossbow requires special accessories for effective hunting. Arrows are specially sized and weighted for the dimensions of a particular weapon, although when buying a new crossbow that’s no problem — the correct arrows are included.

Sights are important for a crossbow because the hunter needs to gauge the effect gravity will have on a shot. The farther the arrow travels, the more it will drop. Multi-retical sights use multiple lines on the sight, while red dot systems use a series of dots. They both provide a gauge to measure depth and distance of a shot.

Crossbows are significantly noisier than vertical bows, which can be a problem when you have to get very close to what you are tracking. Higher end models include anti-vibration features that minimize noise. Standalone anti-vibration features can also be purchased.

Make Sure It Feels Right

Crossbows have become highly sophisticated weapons, with many choices, features and price ranges. As with virtually anything these days, there is plenty of information available on the Internet. Barnett Crossbows says doing your homework is important, but there’s another critical step. “You really need to hold the product in your hand,” she says. “Go to the store, feel it, touch it and make sure it’s the right size and shape for you. It’s a very personal choice, and you want it to be right.”

-Deer Abby

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Getting Cozy with a Crossbow

Used correctly, the crossbow is an accurate and reliable weapon.


Riding a wave of relaxed hunting regulations and good results in the field, the crossbow has become the weapon of choice for many hunters. “The crossbow market is still growing,” said Jackie Allen of Barnett Crossbows, “and we’re happy to be part of it.”


The crossbow’s surge in popularity is good news because it enables more hunters, but crossbow hunting is not something that should be rushed into without preparation. Like all weapons, a crossbow is only as accurate as the man or woman releasing the arrow.


Crossbow Basics


Hunting with a crossbow requires stalking capability, because you must get within 40 yards of the prey. But crossbow hunters have an advantage over bow hunters in that the crossbow can be pre-cocked, so when a deer is in range, the mechanics of shooting are less likely to spook it.


Two types of crossbows are in general use today: compound and recurve. Both offer advantages. A compound crossbow is capable of generating more energy, but a recurve crossbow produces less vibration and is quieter. A recurve crossbow can be serviced in the field if the string breaks, while string replacement on a compound crossbow is more complex.


Shooting either type of crossbow is a matter of drawing the string until it locks into place, loading an arrow, releasing the safety and pulling the trigger. Crossbow arrows — sometimes called bolts — are shorter and heavier than standard arrows. As with all weapons, a steady hold is essential.


A crossbow should never be fired without an arrow loaded. Doing so can damage the bow. It’s also important to use arrows of the size and weight recommended by the crossbow manufacturer to ensure good performance.


While many crossbows make excellent hunting weapons, some are easier to use than others. The Quad 400 Xtreme is one of the most hunter-friendly compound crossbows available and is capable of delivering a 400-grain arrow at a speed of 345 feet per second. It’s available at Dunham’s in a package that includes a 4×32 multi-reticle scope, a quiver with three arrows, and a crank cocking device that makes it possible for hunters who can’t draw a bowstring to enjoy crossbow hunting.


Like all crossbows, the Quad 400 Xtreme is equipped with a safety that engages when the crossbow is cocked. Never release the safety until you’re ready to fire and the bow is pointed safely. It’s also important to make sure that no fingers are in the bowstring’s path. Upon release, the string moves with abundant energy and can cause severe injury.


Achieving Accuracy


Many factors affect accuracy, including damaged arrows, misaligned sights or scopes, hunter technique, and mechanical defects. When shooting with a recurve crossbow, it’s important to achieve an even draw when cocking. In other words, if one of the crossbow’s limbs is displaced more than the other, the arrow won’t fly true. A compound crossbow will generally draw equally if it is in good mechanical condition, but care should be exercised when cocking.


Crossbow hunters should do some target shooting before going out in the field. This will not only allow time to achieve a smooth and steady release, but will also provide an opportunity to sight in your weapon and compensate for arrow drop over distance.


All crossbows have a sighting system that compensates for drop at a specific arrow speed and range, usually 20 to 50 yards. This compensation allows you to aim directly at your target. When the arrow leaves the crossbow, it drops continuously until it reaches the target. So a properly calibrated sighting device will cause the arrow to leave the weapon on an upward trajectory when you aim directly at your target. The arrow will then travel in an arc and arrive at the target.


Since arrow drop is continuous, the sighting adjustment is only correct within a specific range. But many sighting devices are gauged with multiple reference points that allow accurate aim at varying distances. Some scopes display reticles, essentially lines, while others use dots. A three-dot scope, for example, might be set up for accurate targeting at distances of 20, 30, and 40 yards. Range-finding reticle scopes are equipped with a scale that allows you to measure distance from target before selecting a reference point.


Sighting-in your scope is critical and best accomplished with a stationery target and the arrow you’ll use in the field. All scopes have an adjuster for windage, which determines the targeting accuracy left and right of center, and another for elevation, which dials in targeting above and below center.


Begin by shooting from 10 yards away to make sure you’re in the ballpark. If your results are close to target center, move out to 20 yards away. If they’re not even close, your scope might be incorrectly installed or way out of adjustment. At 20 yards, you should be able to achieve a tight grouping of three shots within a 3-inch circle.


If you can’t achieve a tight grouping, there’s no point in twisting adjustment screws. You should practice your aim and make sure you’re shooting with a smooth motion and steady grip. Once you achieve a tight circle, you can tweak the adjustments to position your grouping of arrows at the target center. If your group of three arrows is consistently to the left or right of the bulls eye, you should turn the windage adjustment to compensate. Similarly, if the group is above or below the bulls eye, you should turn the elevation adjustment to compensate. Then retest and make further adjustments if necessary.


If your scope has multiple reticles or dots, you should dial in the top line or dot for your minimum shooting distance, then the other dots or lines will serve as targeting marks for longer distances. So if the top dot of a three-dot scope is adjusted for accuracy at 20 yards, the two lower dots may well be accurate at 30 and 40 yards. Test and verify. The extra time on the range will serve you well in the field.


Staying on Target


A crossbow can only deliver like-new accuracy when it’s well cared for. Your maintenance routine should include checking for worn strings or cables on a regular basis. If either the string or cables of a compound crossbow show wear, it’s best to replace both. As your string stretches, your arrow speed will decline and the targeting calibration of your crossbow will suffer, so replacing the string on a regular basis is recommended.


Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for care of your crossbow. They should include instructions for lubricating the rail in which the arrow rests and instructions for waxing the string and cables. Make sure all screws and fasteners are secure on a regular basis, but don’t muscle them down.


If your scope adjustment is maxed out and your shots continue to land to the left or right of your target, you’re either cocking your crossbow unevenly or the bow’s limbs are not providing equal tension. The limbs of a compound crossbow can usually be adjusted by means of a tiller adjustment screw on each limb. If the limbs of a recurve crossbow provide unequal tension, the only recourse may be replacement.


-Deer Abby

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